Category Archives: Five Stars

Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries

Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries by [Anastasiou, Mel]

Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries, by Mel Anastasiou, is a series of dramatic detective mysteries. The novel contains four different detective stories, each of which are interconnected yet independent. In addition to the stories, the opening of the book contains an interesting philosophical and logical argument. It also gives a hint to some of the content of the book. Anastasiou does an excellent job of providing depth to not only the characters and their actions and motivations, but also in the general style of her writing.

The novel practically seems to drip with British style. So much so, that without careful reading and generous knowledge of Canadian and American culture and institutions, most readers will probably assume that it is set somewhere in Britain instead of actually being set in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Having read her, Stella Ryman engenders the same feelings as most Dorothy Sayers detective stories. However, there are some subtle differences between the style of Stella Ryman and the British detective novels of the 19th and early 20th century. Those old stories tended to deal with a static, aristocratic society, police forces that were not corrupt, but were certainly not in any position to solve the case, and a lack of emotion among the affected cast of characters. Stella Ryman is similar and brings in other classic mystery themes: a senior care home provides a rather static environment (even though the residents may invariably change from time to time), the managers of the care home are bumbling but not corrupt, there are no supernatural causes in the story, there is a secret passageway, and Stella has a tendency to honestly declare her thoughts, intuitions, and deductions.

There are also significant tie-ins to American pulp detective novels as well, primarily in the commonality of the characters (there are almost no aristocrats and most people are average and middle-class) and the feeling of inevitability—that truth will out and that justice will be done. Overall, Stella Ryman seems to fit roughly a quarter of the way between British and American writing styles—perfect for Canada.

Stella Ryman, as a character, is quintessentially heroic — in the classic sense. At points throughout the book, it appears that Anastasiou is reading Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces as she is writing her own book. In the beginning, Stella refuses the call to adventure (being a detective), is completely content with her own mortality, and is merely waiting to die. Eventually, she realizes that there is a third option—something besides life and death. As a side note, herein lies a common theme within the novel, the breaking of logical fallacies—ad hominem, false dichotomies, circular arguments, causal fallacies, and hasty generalizations being the most common. Stella, after making her third choice, is confronted with supernatural assistance (Mad Cassandra, whom is herself rife with mythological allusions). Stella runs across a few other mentors along the way, makes a deep, personal transformation, and returns with a gift for her fellow residents: the ability to make life worth living again.

Overall, this book is an excellent read, full of colorful characters. Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries, is appropriate for teenage and adult readers. Although younger demographics may have difficulty with some of the allusions and references that are peppered throughout the book. Younger readers may also have difficulty relating to an octogenarian, but Stella’s tenacity is something certainly worth emulating. There is no obvious sexual content (there are hints, however) or illicit drug use, there is some personal violence, and a lot of discussion of heavy, emotional and existential topics.

Pages: 151 | ASIN: B06XTG2GWJ

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Don’t Call Me Chip

Don't Call Me Chip by [O'Donnell, Neil]

Don’t Call Me Chip, by Neil O’Donnell, is the story of one determined chipmunk and the battle he undertakes to save his human and the creatures who share his yard from an ill-intentioned family. Mikey, an eccentric old man and former Marine names the adventurous chipmunk Timothy, provides him with a small store of seeds, and thus steals his heart. Timothy, having lost his home, takes up residence in Mikey’s yard and makes it his job to protect and serve as a way of showing his gratitude and love for the old man–his new friend.

I have to say, I did not expect to fall in love with Don’t Call Me Chip–but that is exactly what happened. O’Donnell has masterfully captured the thoughts and feelings of the wild animals in his work and presents them in a way not seen in any other book or short story. Timothy, telling his own story for the majority of the book, is boisterous, cantankerous, and contemplative. The reader is privy to all of Timothy’s thoughts as he evolves from a suspicious chipmunk to a loving and protective pet.

All really great books have those little moments that take your breath–moments that seal the deal for the reader. For me, that moment arrived when TImothy refers to Mikey as his new friend. It seems a small and otherwise benign line out of the many more humorous and action-packed passages, but it carries a hefty weight for me. Timothy, a loner like Mikey, misunderstood and underappreciated, makes a lasting connection in that moment.

The shift from first person to third person at the end of the book threw me for moment, but I enjoyed the change in point of view. O’Donnell gives readers the feeling of an age-old story by backing up and giving a broader picture of Timothy’s final ordeal.

I am giving Don’t Call Me Chip a solid 5 out of 5 stars. I truly loved the characters–big and small. Mikey, who could be anyone’s elderly neighbor, is lovable and the obvious underdog. Resilient and focused, Timothy makes for the perfect main character and, in his own right, tiny hero.

Pages: 85 | ASIN: B079GTSKZR

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Descendent Darkness: Redemption

Descendent Darkness: Book Three: Redemption by [Macready, A.J.]

A.J. Macready’s Redemption, book three in the Descendant Darkness series, details both the rise and fall of a line of vampires dominating the mountains of Virginia. Deemed “America’s Transylvania,” Clarke’s Summit is home to a plague of sorts dating back to the 1700’s and a rash of murders in 1982. Sheriff Stan Pryor finds himself facing a terrifying night of death and retribution in Clarke’s Summit in 2003 when the town is again host to the vile and nefarious acts of Lydia, a vampire of old seeking vengeance on the three remaining members of the town’s founders. Richard Gaston, Tom Campbell, and Father Ryan Bennett are left to face Lydia’s wrath.

Macready’s Redemption is as filled with action as it is brimming with rich characters. From beginning to end, readers are left breathless with the anticipation of Lydia’s next move. There are few, if any, breaks between chaotic and harrowing scenes. The energy is high throughout the book, and the meetings between the citizens of the cursed Clarke’s Summit township build to an almost exhausting level.

As a first-time reader of Macready’s Descendant Darkness, I wasn’t sure who to peg as the main character right out of the gate. The longer I read, the more I realized that Macready’s main character is the vampire storyline in and of itself. Though each of the characters is memorable and comes with a strong backstory, no one character stands out as the focus of the storyline. Sheriff Pryor helps to set up the premise of book three while Richard Gaston, his son Mike, and Tom Campbell (the vampire hunters, as it were) work as a cohesive unit to battle Lydia, her heinous attacks, and life-altering mind games. Even Lydia, a vivid protagonist, can’t be pointed out as the book’s sole focus. I found this particular choice in the writing to be quite appealing.

I have always been intrigued by the notion that some aspects of truth are embedded in folklore. That being said, one of my favorite elements in Macready’s writing was the inclusion of excerpts from local newspapers describing historic events and the details surrounding what the town deems the “Clarke’s Summit Blood Cult.” The lengths to which Macready has gone to give his vampire tale credibility are impressive. I found myself as absorbed in the passages from the Shenandoah Observer as I was in the lengthy and involved action sequences.

One of the most striking facets of Macready’s vampires is their ability to manipulate the minds of their victims. Throughout the book, Lydia is able to inject her own words into their thoughts and, essentially, control their actions. These episodes are peppered throughout the plot, and each one brings a chill.

Any fan of vampire stories will find this book appealing and engaging. Not having read the first two books in the series, I don’t feel that I missed vital information. The author expertly incorporates the backstories of Lydia and the vampire-hunting descendants into this third installment. With side stories paralleling those of the book’s main cast of characters, Macready provides mystery, suspense, and action in one neat package.

Pages: 290 | ASIN: B06XPHDPB6

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A Game of Life

A Game of Life by [Musewald, Anna]

After a serious car crash, Stefan comes round from a coma with a case of amnesia. Eva, his younger sister, is the only one who can see that Stefan is not really Stefan at all…When a strange letter arrives, written in gothic handwriting and addressed to Stefan, saying there has been a terrible mistake and signed by a mysterious ‘Hyacinthe’, the puzzle starts to unravel. Along with Eva, Stefan’s friends, Kim, Thomas, Harry, and Andrew must try to solve the mystery but to do that they will have to take part in a dangerous race, called The Game of Life.

Anna Musewald’s A Game of Life is a YA fantasy and mystery novel which draws you in from the first page. The prose is so easy to read; it is witty and enchanting and feels perfect for a YA audience. In spite of the simplicity of the language, it doesn’t feel at all patronising or one-dimensional. The ‘game’ from the title is quite complex, with lots of imaginative systems and challenging tasks set for the players which really immerses the reader in the experience. I loved the inclusion of Greek myth, such as Apollo and the Sirens, woven through the narrative. The plot is in the vein of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which could make it seem derivative, but with an original and inventive spin, it manages to feel fresh and exciting. Meaningful themes of friendship, loyalty and bravery flesh out the fun storyline.

The pacing is excellent; I was instantly engrossed by the opening chapter and the book never let me go! We are drawn in by the question of what has happened to Stefan and led through a number of rabbit holes and strange happenings. The revelation isn’t made until the end which kept me greedily turning the pages, and there are also plenty of action scenes to keep the reader hooked until the final page.

I had total belief in the characters, who all have distinctive personalities, and I loved the way that the friendships and rivalries are portrayed, showing the tangled and complex nature of relationships. The relationship between Stefan and Eva is particularly poignant and depicts the protective and intuitive nature of sibling relationships. The dialogue is funny and clever, and the conversation seems very authentic for a group of young people.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most was the setting of Parsi and the fully formed ‘underground’ city created by the author which is full of fantastical and magical detail. Musewald excels at writing surroundings and conjures up place in a beguiling and descriptive way so that the reader feels as though they are on the journey with the characters.

This is a great addition to the young fiction genre, full of twists and turns, mystery and suspense; I enjoyed the journey immensely. I gobbled it up in one go, and I can’t wait for another riveting story from Anna Musewald.

Pages: 202 | ASIN: B01M0ZBKXP

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Did I Say Never?

Did I Say Never?: A Stepparent’s Emotional Journey with her Special Needs Son by [Nugent, Kim]

Did I Say Never is the first-person account of one woman’s life as stepmother to a son with special needs and the many ways in which he has blessed her life. Kim Nugent’s open and honest recounting of Brooks’s struggles includes her introduction into his life, the battle to find facilities capable of meeting his needs, and her family’s own triumphs over even the smallest of Brooks’s accomplishments. Nugent writes poignantly regarding her stepson’s progress throughout the years and the dedication and persistence required to provide Brooks with the best possible carparee as he matures.

Life has a funny way of making us rethink all of our absolutes. Kim Nugent is no stranger to this phenomenon. Having declared she would never again marry and never needed to consider the ramifications of dating a man with children, Nugent finds herself falling headlong into a relationship with her soulmate–and his children. The author’s descriptions of her love for her stepchildren and the great lengths to which she has gone to fit successfully into the role of stepmother are raw and touching. Her experience is relatable, and she offers readers more than just a peek into the process which has dominated her life.

As a mother and a teacher, I can appreciate Nugent’s methodical approach to meeting her stepson’s needs and the joy experienced when he meets each milestone. The time, effort, and devotion she shows Brooks is astounding. Nugent shares with readers a step-by-step list of instructions for helping meet his needs. She, literally, leaves nothing unaddressed. From his most basic day-to-day needs to interpreting his attempts to communicate his feelings, Nugent takes into account any and every situation in which a caregiver or family member might need advice when dealing with her son. Her family’s pride and elation upon hearing Brooks’s first word is clear to the reader. You cannot help but smile as you read and feel the warmth emanating through Nugent’s words.

I highly recommend Did I Say Never to any parent of a child with special needs, any parent struggling to come to terms with a difficult diagnosis, or teachers seeking to better understand parents’ daily battles to maintain a daily routine while, at the same time, enriching their child’s life. Nugent offers something to readers most of us are incapable of imagining in regards to raising a child with special needs–the whole truth and nothing but. Parents and teachers alike will welcome the honest delivery and upbeat attitude from Nugent.

I am giving Did I Say Never, by Kim Nugent, 5 out of 5 stars. Watching Nugent on her journey of self-discovery and seeing her stepson overcome some truly overwhelming circumstances makes for a wonderful reading experience. Not to mention, Nugent provides readers with an extensive and meticulously detailed list of needs and behaviors helpful to any caregiver or family member.

Pages: 150 | ASIN: B071XDJZK6

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How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure by [Newton, Kaye]

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure, written by Kaye Newton, will help you teach your children to find the joy in reading. We live in a digital age, and the art of reading is slowly fading away. Netflix, social media and the internet have taken over the entertainment sector, leaving teenagers and children disinterested with the magic of reading. Armed with exciting and informative facts, Kaye Newton will help all parents and caregivers find practical and engaging ways to help encourage your adolescents to read.

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure is a valuable tool and learning resource for all parents who are trying to get their teens to read. With online distractions and the quick fix that screen time provides, this generation of children is sadly missing out on the benefits which reading a book provides.

The benefits of reading are far and wide and include how reading improves our concentration, memory, analytical skills and even help teens prepare for the workforce. And if you believe your child is just simply not a “born reader”, Newton also takes a look at how we all have the potential to read, and humans are innately drawn to storytelling and adventure. Sometimes it comes down to simply finding the right book for the right child.

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure will also push you to question your own beliefs and interests in reading. One line that resonated with me was “I liked reading until I was forced to overthink every sentence”. As a child, we often read books to discover new worlds, uncover magical creatures and learn different cultures, but  this changes when we become adolescents. At school we are often expected to look at the grammar and the concept of the story and then write hundreds and sometimes thousands of words about a plot line we may have not even enjoyed. Kaye Newton addresses this issue with some alarming statistics about how little we now read and the detrimental effects it can have when we take reading out of our lives.

Not only will How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure give you extensive and useful tools to help with supporting your teen to read, but the novel also provides lists of books that will suit your child and match their interests. For example, many parents often use the excuse that their child does not read due to being obsessed with video games. But there are books for even the most avid of gamers, and Newton will provide you with several examples to get you started. There is also a fantastic list of books ready for you to try that are sorted by ages and genres.

One segment of How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure also answers questions that parents may have, such as do graphic novels count as reading or what is considered “real reading”? These questions will help parents find out what type of reading will suit their teen and how reading can be found in places we least expect.

I would recommend this to anyone who is looking to encourage the children in their lives to discover the magic of reading!

Pages: 171 | ASIN: B0793MKDNP

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The BreakAway Girl: Secrets of a Tantric Yogi

The BreakAway Girl: Secrets of a Tantric Yogi by [Bodeman, Paulette ]

Life is filled with challenges and for people with crippling anxiety it is worse. That anxiety feeds depression, and the two together can define and break a person down, or they can adapt, find ways to manage it and thrive in life. The BreakAway: Girl Secrets of a Tantric Yogi by Paulette Bodeman is Paulette’s memoir’s. Her story ranges from early in life to after her child is grown and an adult himself. This collection of her memories works like the human brain, it isn’t linier, rather the memories flow back and forth leaving imprints on the reader. Throughout the book Paulette slowly discovers yoga in a variety of forms before finding her place, at the end of this book she shares her knowledge with information on how to mediate, yoga poses, and how to embrace your own BreakAway moments in life, be them big or small.

Paulette Bodeman decided when she started writing this book that she was not going to just include all the good points or put a happy twist on her life moments. She promised herself to include all the ugly moments, all the hard memories, from addiction, divorce, depression and loss. They were not written with caveats that ‘oh this made me a better person for living through it’. Instead it is just raw emotions. It is real life and despite the jumping from one memory to another often not in chronological order, it is captivating to the reader. Some people will be frustrated by the lack of cohesion from one memory to the next; but I found it relatable and it gave me a better understanding of her. When I think back in time to my own memories it is a jumbled road, and those pieces all fit together in my own broken puzzle, that is what this book reminds me of. You don’t put a puzzle together left to right, you fit them together as you find them and once done you have a complete picture.

Much of the book focuses on her finding herself though her experiences and how they all led her to where she is now. But written in her style that path isn’t clear. In the last part of the book she explains her views on BreakAway moments, big and small. She talks about how they are the defining moments in your life that you may or may not even reorganize as being a defining moment. This last part pulls together everything she wrote. The inclusion of mediation suggestions, yoga poses, and spiritual healing ideas just completes the book. You start reading about her chaotic and disjointed life and end with a guide on how to find your own path through your own chaos.

This is not your traditional yoga book, it is not your traditional book on finding inspiration in life or how to better yourself. It is not a self-help book you pick up and read step by step to find your perfect balance. It is a book that will inspire you, give you bits and pieces you can relate to and give you suggestions on finding your own inner peace at your own pace and discovering your own BreakAway moments and how they have defined you.

Pages: 226 | ASIN: B079NCH83G

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Nahia

Nahia (Faerie Legacy Series Book 3) by [Bossano, Patricia]

Nahia, by Patricia Bossano, chronicles the turbulent efforts of the faery princess, Nahia, as she attempts to lure Calisto, her human obsession, into the faery realm and then maintain her relationship with him. This is the third installment of the Faerie Legacy Series and focuses on the tragically severed relationship between the human and faery realms–damage caused by Nahia herself. When she impulsively chooses to kidnap newborn Calisto, Nahia ultimately brings the wrath of his mother, Alaia, and a decision to ban Nahia from visiting the human descendants of her beloved companion, Celeste. Nahia’s swift and careless choice leave the faery realm in the tragic position of being cut completely from the lives of their human friends after an eighty-seven year connection with them.

Having read the first two Faerie Legacy books, I was most interested to see how Bossano would incorporate her characters into a book that solely focused on the faery, Nahia. As with the jump from Book One to Book Two, the author spans several generations and moves through time very quickly. Book Three takes many steps back into the 1900s to visit again with Celeste’s children even though Book Two was set primarily in the present. As confusing as the order of the books’ settings may sound, it totally works. Bossano is a master at providing clear explanations regarding her full line of characters, and readers are able to follow and appreciate the storyline without having read the series in order. The character are all standouts.

Quotes don’t often strike me in fantasy novels, but Bossano writes some truly beautiful lines. I could not help but be taken with the line she presents as a memory to Nahia as she begins to dwell and stress over what would have been and could be with her faery companion, Sendoa. As she frets away in the first moments of the new life she has concocted with Calisto, Nahia recalls her mother’s words, “Be done with the past and be present.” I truly love that line.

The ties between Nahia and Celeste, from Book One, are clear and present in this book. Nahia and Celeste–faery and human–were as close as two can be without being sisters. Nahia’s undying love for her human friend is evident and touching throughout Book Three. Nahia’s insistence that only a female descendant of Celeste and Etienne’s marriage should be the heir to their possession and estate further shows her love for Celeste and beautifully weaves Book Two into the plotline of Nahia.

Nahia was a favored character of mine from the first book in Bossano’s series, but in this installment, she truly shines. Her fickle ways and her, pardon the pun, flighty ways make her an incredibly enjoyable character to follow. Bossano has succeeded in creating and, more importantly, maintaining a rich and well-developed character in Nahia.

Nahia is easily my favorite of the three Faerie Legacy books. I recommend it to any fan of the fantasy genre and to any reader curious about breaking into the faery realm themselves. Bossano’s tales are highly readable, beyond imaginative, and wonderfully spun.

Pages: 296 | ASIN: B0767D6X5Q

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LoveQuest

LoveQuest by Pamela Jean Horter-Moore is the story of Psyche, a mortal girl blessed by the goddess Aphrodite with great beauty. She is so lovely, that she receives admirers wherever she goes. When Psyche offends Aphrodite, by seeking the approval of her envious sisters and taking her beauty for granted, Aphrodite decides to take revenge. Using her son, Eros, she attempts to punish Psyche to a loveless life. But things backfire because Eros falls in love with Psyche. Both are torn between their families and their love for one another. They must decide what is most important in life.

I am fascinated by Greek mythology with its heroes, monsters and gods, so I knew I was going to love this book before I had even started! This is an epic love story based on an original Greek myth that we know and love, but it is fleshed out with a unique narrative and a fresh take on the characters. Although it is primarily a story of romance, there are obviously fantasy aspects in there–the author excels at writing both genres and combines them expertly. Through a great feat of imagination, Horter-Moore has put a really creative and refreshing twist on what could have been a stale story.

Horter-Moore’s prose is a joy to read, it is straightforward whilst being eloquent and descriptive. It flows beautifully throughout with quite a dream-like tone which captures the milieu perfectly. The narrative is based more on internal thoughts and feelings rather than dialogue, which gives us great insight and understanding of the characters motives and desires. When there is dialogue, it is actually quite modern, for instance, “Why do we have to spend every vacation here?” whined Tanna.“That oracle never has anything interesting to say…”Although this could have felt inauthentic, I actually thought that it was a great way of making the tale more accessible and up to date. The author particularly excels at writing place, and the setting of ancient Greece is magically conjured; it is a world full of gods, superstition, soothsayers, seers and magic. The prose is extremely evocative of scenery and I felt transported to the slopes of Mount Olympus.

The characters really come alive on the page, and they are portrayed with such sensitivity- -the author isn’t afraid of illustrating their flaws and complexities. The relationship between the sisters Medea, Tanna and Psyche are particularly well portrayed, illustrating all of the complicated feelings of jealousy and yearning for approval. The love between Eros, who is the perfect mate, and Psyche, who is deeply imperfect, feels very genuine, and I felt completely invested in their relationship.

Although this is a story of Gods and mortals living in a time unlike our own, the narrative reminds us that ultimately any human heart can suffer and love in universal ways. This is a great read for any lover of myth, fantasy or romance, and I look forward to more from this author!

Pages: 186 | ASIN: B06XTX3TFH

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Sam’s Theory

Sam's Theory by [Mendivel, Sarah]

Sam’s Theory by Sarah Mendivel is a magical realism novel hitting major elements of mental health. We follow a teenage girl named Sam through her heartbreaking and triumphant journey to escapes tragic abuse. When she runs away she stumbles upon a tree house in the forest where a magical old woman lives who is compassionate and kind. It is here where Sam’s journey takes her through healing, acceptance, becomes a healer herself, and learns family can also consist of the people we choose.

This book is a fantastic magical, heartfelt, and heartbreaking journey. Sam endures many challenges in her life that lead to her feeling broken and betrayed. She no longer feels as if she is worthy of anyone’s love, she no longer feels safe, and does not trust anyone. I could really feel the hurt and the story does a great job of creating deep feelings of empathy and sympathy. There are many dark themes to this book and is riddled with stories of abuse of all kinds. One of the aspects I appreciate about this book is that it does not go into gritty detail of the abuse and instead focuses on the emotional impact and subsequent journey. The author treats these events as they are, terrifying and ugly, but also shows how the abuse is not the fault of those who are abused. The story also made me feel like those who have been abused are still worthy of love, can find love, and can heal. That they do not have to go through anything alone.

The book is incredibly relatable to anyone who has faced abuse. It is heartwarming to be reassured that what happened was not the fault of abused, and that they can turn the situation around and become a stronger person through the bravery of sharing their stories. From a mental health perspective, I think this book can be a great way to learn about the impacts of violence, neglect, and other forms of abuse. And also teach those who have been in those situations that they are worthy and loved. This is an incredibly important message to send to people.

While the book dealt with heavy topics and made me cry on numerous occasions, it is written beautifully. I love this book and highly recommend it to everyone who wants to learn more about abuse and see a persons value. Even though it can be a heart-wrenching read at times, I think it is powerful story with a lovely message.

Pages: 352 | ASIN: B078TQMRRQ

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